Coast 2 Coast in a Super Carry
Words and pics GG van Rooyen
What vehicle would you use to cross the African continent in a single day? Chances are, it’s not a Suzuki Super Carry. Could Suzuki’s little commercial vehicle even handle that kind of punishment? We decided to find out…
When you turned to these pages, you probably studied the images with some confusion. Chances are, you even closed the mag and double-checked the cover to make sure you were indeed holding a copy of Leisure Wheels in your hand. Why, you asked, is a Suzuki Super Carry featured in a primarily 4×4 publication? It is definitely not a 4×4. It is also not a leisure vehicle. It’s not an SUV. It’s not an MPV. It’s not a double cab bakkie.
What is a Super Carry?
No, the Super Carry is a trokkie: a small and affordable commercial vehicle that’s aimed at those looking for a vehicle that can carry a decent load and isn’t expensive to run. In short, it’s for the small business owner. If you’re a handyman, gardener or pool technician, this is the LCV for you. The fact of the matter is, commercial vehicles aren’t particularly affordable these days. Even your standard single cab is beyond the reach of many entrepreneurs, which is where the Super Carry comes in. It has a large load bin and a payload capacity of 750kg, and is powered by simple, yet effective, 1.2-litre petrol mill that’s fairly frugal.
Most importantly, it retails for R135 900, which is unbeatable for a vehicle of this kind. Of course, if you’re going to buy an LCV for this price, some concessions and sacrifices will need to be made. Want a radio? Bring your boom box. Power steering? That’s for sissies. Air conditioning? Never heard of it. Airbags? Your face is your airbag. Yes, the Super Carry is a throwback to a simpler era. Its interior is, well, decidedly minimalist in nature. If we’re being honest, the little Suzuki hasn’t been designed with the open road in mind. It’s for carrying loads around town, over relatively short distances. Its wheels are tiny, it suffers from a lot of wind noise once you travel above 100km/h; oh, and it’s got a 30-litre fuel tank.
A plan is hatched
So how did we end up driving the Super Carry from the East Coast of SA to the West Coast, in one day? Well, that’s kind of a funny story. Our editor, Danie Botha, has something of a penchant for doing silly things with cars. He’s taken a caravan up Baboons Pass. He’s turned a Nissan Navara into a green monster truck with 37-inch wheels. He’s driven through seven Southern African countries in seven days. And he forced me to go along. Twice! Well, the idea to drive from our country’s eastern shore to its west is something that’s been rolling around in his head for a while. At one point, the plan was to do it in a fast and luxurious SUV. A Jaguar F-Pace was mentioned. Then the Super Carry arrived. I’m not sure how the Suzuki even ended up in our parking lot, since we really only test SUVs and double cabs.
Regardless, Mr Botha drove the Super Carry for a few days. And he liked it. Really, really liked it. “Drive it home,” he said. “You’ll be impressed. It’s fun to drive. That little engine is amazingly eager.” Dropping the keys to a seven-seater SUV with iPod connectivity and climate control back into my desk drawer, I somewhat reluctantly took the Super Carry’s old-school key from him and set off on my commute. As promised, the Suzuki impressed. It was nimble and fun, and the engine had far more oomph than you would expect, most probably due to the fact that the vehicle has a kerb weight of only 850kg. “What did you think?” he asked the following morning. He was sporting the sort of expression you typically see on a young father as he proudly tells you that his son received the ‘Most Improved’ award in class. His affection for the Super Carry was endearing. “It’s fun,” I said. “Very nice. Great little car.” “Great! I’ve been thinking: why don’t we drive it from Durban to the West Coast. What do you think?” What did I think? I thought he was joking. And when I realised he wasn’t joking, I was thinking of ways to get out of it. I was suddenly praying for a bout of the flu. The Super Carry was a nice little LCV, but it wasn’t designed to take part in cross-continental adventure. A long trip in the Super Carry was from a gardening gig in Sandton to a pool cleaning job in Bryanston. “That’s a great idea,” I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.
“Excellent. I’ll put it together.” I eyed him suspiciously over the next few days as he twiddled about in his office. Every once in a while, I’d catch a word as he spoke on the phone. I heard: “Super Carry” and “Umhlanga” and “Bloemfontein” and “Springbok” and “Hondeklip Bay”. I wasn’t really worried, though. As with last year’s US election, I kept waiting for the joke to end and reality to set in. But it didn’t happen. Donald Trump was president. And we were driving from Umhlanga to Hondeklip Bay in a Super Carry. “We leave on Tuesday,” he said. “We’re going to buy about 500kg of food in Umhlanga and take it to the people in Hondeklip Bay. There are plenty of people in need there. We’ll leave at 12am on Wednesday from Umhlanga and drive to the West Coast. It’s about 1 600km, so we should get there around 5pm.”
Carry on to Durban
We left for Durban at about 9am on a Tuesday morning. Ahead of us was 600km of open road. Compared to the mammoth journey we would be undertaking the following day, this was nothing more than a leg-stretch. Also, we were travelling to the South Coast without a load. As we hit the highway, my mood lifted. The Super Carry was sprinting at a decent clip. Without much hassle, we could travel at around 120km/h. But what would happen once we had doubled the kerb weight of the Suzuki? How would it deal with Van Reenen’s Pass once it had a load of 750kg?
And how often would we need to refill the 30-litre tank? We arrived in Durban just as the sun was setting. We found a food store and started loading the LCV with things like maize meal, sugar, rice, tea and coffee. By the time we were done, the small little tyres were bulging worryingly. “We need to inflate the tyres to about 4 bar,” Danie said. “That’s the only way the tyres will handle the load.” “And what about those gravel roads in the Northern Cape? We can’t travel on those at 4 bar,” I said. “I’m sure it’ll be fine,” he said. “We won’t be doing too much gravel driving.” I wasn’t convinced.
And away we go
After a few hours of sleep, we were up and on the road at 12am. Danie was driving. “She’s definitely feeling heavier,” he said. “Turning is quite a bit harder now.” We hit the steep hills out of Durban. Amazingly, the Super Carry was performing well. It had to be driven hard, with your foot flat most of the time and a constant rowing between the gears, but we were managing to stay above 100km/h. The Super Carry has only one dial on its dash – a speedometer – so it was impossible to say at what revs we were running, but there was no doubt that the Suzuki was being put under an awful lot of strain. I actually felt quite sorry for Danie’s little LCV. With our aim to reach the West Coast in one day and a heavy load on the back, it was clear that the Super Carry would be pushed to the limit.
I secretly thought that there was a decent chance it wouldn’t survive the day. I didn’t want to dash Danie’s dreams early in the game, though, so I didn’t say anything. I left him alone to pilot his Super Carry in peace while I took a nap. I awoke occasionally to find the vehicle parked at various petrol stations. Clearly, we would be making plenty of fuel stops. Since we were on a tight deadline, this was worrying. If we lost 10 minutes per stop, and made nine stops, which was looking likely, we would lose 90 minutes over the course of the day. “Where are we?” I asked sometime around 4am. “Getting closer to Bloemfontein.” “Great. Wake me up when we get there,” I said, and went back to sleep.
Morning has broken
Just after we stopped for fuel in Bloemfontein, the sun peeked over the horizon. We had already put a significant distance between us and Umhlanga, but five hours of driving had barely put a dent in the total distance of our journey. More than 1 100km still stood between us and Hondeklip Bay. We settled into a rhythm. We’d stop for fuel every 300km or so, and swap driving duties. As the day dragged on, the drive became quite a meditative experience. Without a radio, and with wind noise in the cabin making it difficult to talk, there was little else to do but sift through your own thoughts and do some introspection. Somewhere around Kimberley, I vowed to actively start saving for my retirement.
As we blew through Griekwastad, I decided that 2017 was the year I would start writing that great novel I knew was hiding somewhere inside me. At Brandboom, I gave up carbs and sugar, but that only lasted until Groblershoop… By lunchtime, we were in Upington. As we made our fifth or sixth fuel stop, I couldn’t help but appreciate how well the Suzuki was performing. It was loaded to the max and every bit of power was being squeezed from its 1.2-litre mill. No one would call the Super Carry’s performance figures impressive (54kW and 110Nm), yet the engine was keeping us above 110km/h all the way. With a 750kg load. In 400°C. A tougher test could hardly be dreamt up. A Pofadder, a Springbok and a Super Carry. We were now on the legendary bit of tarmac between Upington and Springbok. The road here is ruler-straight, the temperature high and the scenery sparse. Thanks to the harsh conditions – as well as the relative lack of prying eyes – it is here that many international manufacturers choose to test their new vehicles.
We saw several Teutonic models being put through the wringer. For a while, looking out for these cars kept me occupied, then the heat and boredom overtook me and I fell asleep. As I slumbered, we ticked off Kakamas, Pofadder and Aggeneys. By late afternoon, we were in Springbok. We had done pretty well, but time was running out. We desperately wanted to make it to Hondeklip Bay in time to see the sun disappear over the horizon. We had about 160km left, which wasn’t a lot, but about 60km of that was rough gravel, and we didn’t know how the Super Carry would perform once it left the tarmac…
The Passion of the Super Carry
The road out of Springbok was smooth tar. It even included the beautiful Spektakel Pass. With our journey almost at an end and the torturous heat of the day finally lifting, we were in a great mood, helped by the gorgeous looming West Coast sunset. Despite being flogged non-stop for 20 hours, the Super Carry was still chugging along like a champ. All was right with the world. Then we hit the gravel road. We had thought the road would be bad. It was much, much worse. Perhaps it wouldn’t be too bad in a luxury 4×4, but the Suzuki was carrying a heavy load and 13-inch tyres that had been pumped to 4 bar.
Moreover, it hadn’t been designed to deal with ugly dirt roads. It had two stiff leaf springs at the back and coil-overs in the front. It felt as if the Super Carry was being ripped apart by the corrugated road. I was certain something was going to break. Even Danie was looking as if he thought the vehicle might not make it. All we could do was hope for the best. The sun was quickly setting and we couldn’t slow down. I gritted my teeth and winced each time a wheel slammed into a hole. Danie unleashed a string of expletives.
Racing the sun
A 60km gravel road had never seemed this unending. It felt as if it was 600km. We watched as the sun approached the horizon. Would we make it? It was almost 8pm, the time sunset typically took place here. The fuel stops and the bad road had added three hours to our journey; time we didn’t have. I readied my camera to take a shot as soon as we reached the shore. Danie put his foot down. The Super Carry skipped and slammed over the rough road. As the sun started to dip below the horizon, we arrived in town. We went straight to the bay and set up the shot. Less than a minute after we arrived, the sun was gone. But it didn’t matter. We had made it. The shot was in the bag.
Carry on home
Next, we travelled to the local municipality and handed out the supplies we had carried from Umhlanga. In total, there was enough for 73 local families. After that, we had a quick dinner, and went straight to bed. As I waited for sleep to come (I wasn’t particularly sleepy, since I had managed to get a good bit of shut-eye on the road), I thought about the events of the day. It was incredible what the Super Carry had accomplished.
We had pushed it to the max for 20 straight hours. Had it been entered into the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it could hardly have had a tougher day. And its journey wasn’t over. The next morning, we’d be heading back to Joburg; another 1 200km. This time, however, I had absolutely no doubt it would be able to handle the journey. It had revealed itself to be indestructible. Sure, it lacked some nice-to-haves, but it was one tough workhorse. Danie was right, that Super Carry really is a little superhero.
Suzuki Super Carry 1.2
Engine Four-cylinder petrol
Capacity 1 196cc
Power 54kW @ 6 000r/min
Torque 101Nm @ 3 000r/min
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Drivetrain Rear-wheel drive
Driving aids None
Fuel tank 30 litres
Consumption (actual, with 500kg load) 9.8 litres/100km
Range (actual, at true 120km/h) 306km
Price R135 900
Source: Leisure Wheels